Courage is not the opposite of fear


What is the opposite of fear?

Courage?! There’s hardly a leadership article that doesn’t include a call to be more courageous. But people tend to forget that calling on others to be more courageous is far from being courageous (and perhaps it is even quite cowardly). It really doesn’t take a lot of courage to demand more courage.

However, courage is a radically subjective category (like all attitudes that make up a state of mind by the way). What is a courageous step for me, is business as usual for others. Therefore, it is absolutely pointless to ask others to be more courageous. The only thing we can do is create spaces of experience in which everyone can reflect on their own attitude and, if necessary, change it bit by bit. For this to happen, however, people need safety. Otherwise they won’t move at all. In other words, we don’t need more courage, but psychological safety. The goal must be to build organizations in which courage is superfluous. An environment where a lot of mental, moral or even physical strength is needed to venture and persevere cannot lead to more innovation.

Lonesome hero*ines withstanding danger, fear, and difficulty will not collaborate but protect their silos. In an ideal new work world with flat hierarchies, courage is no longer necessary but in order to get there we might as well need stronger leadership (and protecting hierarchies) – as paradoxical as that may sound. Otherwise we will pay lip service, pretending to be courageous without any courage. Instead, we need spirited men and women who lead by example, create and protect the environments where change can truly happen, and are able to ask for help and support in times when their courage leaves them.

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